The most salacious scientific lecture in history

This is the story of how a professor was so intent on convincing the public of his findings that he put on the most bizarre and salacious public display conceivable, completely oblivious to what he was doing. I’d heard of this before, but today’s “Seriously Science” column at Discover Magazine recounts a lecture given in 1983 by Professor Giles Brindley, a British physiologist born in 1926 and still with us, undoubtedly still shamed by what he did in 1983.

The column quotes from a 2005 paper by Laurence Klotz in the journal BJU International (formerly the organ of the British Journal of Urology; the paper is, sadly, behind a paywall): How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous Brindley lecture.” Here’s part of the column that details Klotz’s eyewitness account of the incident:

“In 1983, at the Urodynamics Society meeting in Las Vegas, Professor G.S. Brindley first announced to the world his experiments on self-injection with papaverine to induce a penile erection.

. . . The Professor wanted to make his case in the most convincing style possible. He indicated that, in his view, no normal person would find the experience of giving a lecture to a large audience to be erotically stimulating or erection-inducing. He had, he said, therefore injected himself with papaverine in his hotel room before coming to give the lecture, and deliberately wore loose clothes (hence the track-suit) to make it possible to exhibit the results. He stepped around the podium, and pulled his loose pants tight up around his genitalia in an attempt to demonstrate his erection.

At this point, I, and I believe everyone else in the room, was agog. I could scarcely believe what was occurring on stage. But Prof. Brindley was not satisfied. He looked down sceptically at his pants and shook his head with dismay. ‘Unfortunately, this doesn’t display the results clearly enough’. He then summarily dropped his trousers and shorts, revealing a long, thin, clearly erect penis. There was not a sound in the room. Everyone had stopped breathing.

But the mere public showing of his erection from the podium was not sufficient. He paused, and seemed to ponder his next move. The sense of drama in the room was palpable. He then said, with gravity, ‘I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence’. With his pants at his knees, he waddled down the stairs, approaching (to their horror) the urologists and their partners in the front row. As he approached them, erection waggling before him, four or five of the women in the front rows threw their arms up in the air, seemingly in unison, and screamed loudly. The scientific merits of the presentation had been overwhelmed, for them, by the novel and unusual mode of demonstrating the results.

The screams seemed to shock Professor Brindley, who rapidly pulled up his trousers, returned to the podium, and terminated the lecture. The crowd dispersed in a state of flabbergasted disarray. I imagine that the urologists who attended with their partners had a lot of explaining to do. The rest is history. Prof Brindley’s single-author paper reporting these results was published about 6 months later.”

What a great story! The image of a professor waddling up the aisle, hobbled by his trousers with erect penis waggling proudly in the faces of the audience, is stupendous. But as a scientist, I can almost understand how, suffused with pride about his accomplishment, he was determined to show his results in the most compelling way possible, completely oblivious to the effect of his “display” on the audience. There was no intent to be salacious, but merely to convince others. Brindley was simply  bursting with pride.

But imagine having to live with this the rest of your life!

 

51 Comments

  1. NewEnglandBob
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    It’s a good thing that he didn’t have a cure for constipation.

  2. Sander Aarts
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    “But imagine having to live with this the rest of your life!”

    And having your colleagues remind the public about it 31 years later :)

  3. Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Good tale!

    Just a nitpick: The piece is in Discovery, not SciAm.

  4. Andyhall
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Thats “hard” I guess…

  5. darrelle
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    That is an epic story. Until I got to the part about him waddling down to the audience I was wondering what the big deal was, considering the context. But, that was definitely a bit overboard.

  6. Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Certainly beats my example of a physics professor who kept confusing Ada Lovelace with Linda Lovelace all the way through a public lecture.

    • bric
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      I’d love to have seen the slides

  7. Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t know. I saw a Leakey Foundation lecture at the Field Museum on sexual behavior for bonding among bonobos. It included pictures of young apes grasping the genitals of adult male apes and a video of a lesbian sex act between two adults. Maybe it’s not as immediately startling as a guy dropping trou in a lecture, but on the other hand the lecture ran for an hour with questions after.

  8. Simon Hayward
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    An anecdote and a though on progress,

    First, when the British Journal of Urology switched to calling themselves BJU international they sent out a bunch of free copies, one of which ended up sitting on my desk with the BJU moniker showing in a large uppercase font. A colleague wandering by looked at the cover and muttered about having the wrong alma mater.

    Second, if I get to needing them I’ll thank the research community for orally available pde inhibitors, I can’t imagine how anyone could get around to self injecting their penis. I guess when needs must….

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Thought! One day I’ll learn to spell

  9. nickswearsky
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    So,…. is that papaverine stuff, uh, available?

    Asking for a friend.

    • Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      A colleague (fellow sex researcher, but with more emphasis on the sex) has already clued me in to the details of this famous lecture (which I had not heard of). The response:

      It worked in all but the most severely vascularly impaired cases, and required no psychological sexual arousal, but the erection lasted long after orgasm. Due to the uncomfy route of administration of his approach, the PDE5 inhibitors (developed years later) proved far more popular.

  10. Greg Esres
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of the reader stories that Penthouse magazine used to print. Best part of the magazine! There was one where a female biology teacher used one of the students to demonstrate penile functionality…whew! I was afraid that’s where you were going with this story….

  11. Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    What happens in Las Vegas, apparently doesn’t necessarily stay in Las Vegas. And I thought we gave some pretty salacious lectures in the field of venereal diseases.

    Apparently also an inventor of an electronically-controlled bassoon & a creator of a Schoenberg-esque composition.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Indeed imagine living with that embarrassment all your life! I would’ve thought he had snapped if I had witnessed that and I feel embarrassed for him!

  13. Posted April 11, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Ummm…that entire display should have been moot if he did not also demonstrate that he had indeed injected himself with papaverine.

  14. Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    You have to admire his balls to pull off a stunt like that.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      Yes, or at least the public had to.

      • Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        Yes, they could see he was an upstanding citizen.

        • abrotherhoodofman
          Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          His research was quite prominent, indeed.

          • Tveb
            Posted April 11, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

            The audience did after all get his point.

            • Filippo
              Posted April 11, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

              That’s what one calls rising to the occasion.

  15. Barry
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    “But imagine having to live with this the rest of your life!”

    No problem. He simply denies having made any major mistakes in his life. But he does admit that on one occasion he did pull a little boner.

  16. Christine Janis
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Yeah, well, one routinely sees male scientists at meetings doing this metaphorically, if not literally

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Isn’t that bigot, or do I have to guess what female scientists do instead?

  17. Sarah
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    He was a silly sausage.

    • Doug
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      I never sausage a lecture.

  18. Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    One of my professors gave a seminar about embryonic development, where he was describing a process called ‘convergent extension’. This is where an amphibian embryo transforms from a spherical form to an elongate tadpole shape by interdigitation of cells. He got excited, and loudly described this process as forming a ‘huge erection’. I had a great deal of difficulty in remembering anything after that.

  19. Posted April 11, 2014 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    yawn

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      Blue is unimpressed, and wants you to know it.

      • Filippo
        Posted April 11, 2014 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

        Is Blue’s last name Steel?

  20. Posted April 11, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    That might have been the inspiration for the sex education scene from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life” …

  21. Posted April 11, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Brilliant! I read this story somewhere many years ago but couldn’t ever remember where. So I wasn’t sure if it was definitely true. Glad to know it wasn’t just a figment of my (quite frankly bizarre if so) imagination.

  22. Grania Spingies
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This is hilarious. I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the poor audience who must have gotten increasingly nervous that maybe they were witnessing a nervous breakdown in action; or the good professor who must have facepalmed a thousand times a day for many months (years?) after the event.

    • Scote
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      At least he didn’t just read his paper out loud. Is there anything worse than hear someone try to read a heavy scientific paper, something not written with the spoken word in mind? Even a 57 year-old erection has to be better than that…

      • Grania Spingies
        Posted April 12, 2014 at 9:22 am | Permalink

        Well, as my old Criminal Law lecturer liked to say, It depends.

        One’s mileage may vary :-D

      • Posted April 12, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        a 57 year-old erection

        Golly! The stuff really was long-lasting.

  23. Scote
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Funny how context is everything. How this lecture was appealingly embarrassing, whereas a touring show called Puppetry of the Penis, featuring live penis origami on stage, attracted celebrities and politicians.

    http://m.sfgate.com/news/article/Man-s-package-is-cliche-ridden-food-for-thought-2776066.php

    On second thought, maybe Puppetry of the Penis was embarrassing…

  24. Stonyground
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    I think that this wouldn’t have been quite so bad if it had actually proven anything. From the description of the incident it isn’t clear what he was trying to prove but I am assuming that the drug was supposed to induce an erection in someone who could not otherwise achieve one. If that is the case, he would first have had to prove that he could not achieve an erection in the normal way for the demonstration to have any meaning.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but where’s the fun in that?

    • Posted April 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      My thought as well (as I noted above).

      If he was really concerned with presenting the most compelling evidence there was a lot more he needed to demonstrate. I have to think a good scientist would’ve realized this.

  25. Posted April 11, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    A memorable cock up …

    /@

  26. Scote
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, speaking of his fellow Urodynamics Society members, he sure taut them.

  27. Harbo
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Was it a follow up lecture to a less known “flaccid” presentation?

  28. Peter Ozzie Jones
    Posted April 11, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of one of the jokes that the UK “Vicar of Dibley” TV show had just before the credits.

    Three nuns die and end up at the gates of Heaven. St. Peter says that before they can enter, they must first each answer a question.

    To the first he asks: “Who were the first humans?” She says: “Adam and Eve” and he lets her in.

    To the second he asks: “Where did they live?” She says: “In the garden of Eden” and she too is admitted.

    Then he asks the third: “What was the first thing Eve said to Adam?” She replies: “My goodness that’s a hard one” and he opens the gate once again.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted April 11, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Best thing about those jokes (other than the “My god, they’ll never dare to tell that one?” reaction they inspire in the viewer) is the Vicar’s verger Alice, who has absolutely zero sense of humour and infinite naivete and resolutely fails to ‘get’ it.

      • Peter Ozzie Jones
        Posted April 12, 2014 at 12:16 am | Permalink

        & a couple more faves are:
        1) the blind man with the nun taking a bath;
        2) out on the road when one nun says to the other “show them yore cross”

        Plus of course when the vicar was asked “Will you marry me?”

  29. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 12, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing!”
    Or maybe not, in this particular case.
    You’ve got to … errrr … admire the guy’s balls. In a metaphorical sense. Sort-of. Perhaps not.

  30. Posted April 13, 2014 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Dickinson Meadows and commented:
    One for the ages


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